Saturday, October 18, 2014

Princess Torte (Prinsesstarta)

My birthday is in early October, and since I was a kid who liked to plan ahead, my party was on my mind from early September. I would look around at the new faces in my classroom and wonder which kids -- kids I didn't even know yet -- would agree to forge lifelong bonds of friendship with me/attend my birthday party. Because I love friendship. And I have some control problems/anxiety.

My most eventful birthday party was my 10th -- 5th grade. It was so eventful because it lasted over 12 hours, and spending over 12 hours with fellow 10 and 11 year old girls means you will experience every single emotion your underdeveloped brain has to offer. You'll change friendship alliances multiple times. It's a reality show without the promiscuous sex. Instead, the cast members do not understand/are generally afraid of sex.

It was a sleepover party, which I had asked my parents for since I knew what a sleepover was, and they had finally relented, which they definitely shouldn't have. I invited a lot of the girls in Mrs. Gorman/Mrs. Chapek's 4th/5th grade classroom: Susie Shapiro, Sammy Worthingham, Kelli Ashmead, Sophie Klein, Laura Phillips, Brynn McConnell, etc. It was our lunch table in my living room, and it was going to be so much better than last year's birthday party -- bowling-themed, thanks to an American Girl magazine's party idea spread. Sure, we had fun, but three games is too many and the mozzarella sticks were soggy and some girls left their party favors at the alley, which was really the only attempt at American Girl influence. This year was going to be epic, because I made it clear: we weren't going to sleep. Everyone was on the same page. We would be staying up all night, because we were young and invincible and just had so much to do.

The night started with a highly-anticipated viewing of Titanic. Everyone else had already seen it, but my parents were wary of the PG-13 rating (in some moments of parental indiscretion, Joy Luck Club had become my favorite movie, and I had started writing stories about abandoning babies in the Chinese countryside). But, as a special addition to the sleepover, my dad purchased Titanic at Sam's Club and shit was going down. Everything was generally fine until we put in VHS #2 and, you know, the ship sinks and it's very realistic and there's a frozen woman holding her frozen baby and I full-on freaked out and hid behind a curio cabinet in the dining room. This was sort of alarming for all of the party guests, who had seen the movie already and also could handle fictional death. It really set the tone for the rest of the night: intense, emotional, confusing.

When you're 10 or 11, and it's after 10pm, time changes. There are no longer 60 minutes in an hour, but 60,000. There's no way to occupy all of the time. You can only play Truth or Dare and Never Have I Ever for so long -- especially when it's, like, "never have I ever seen a penis." The game goes quickly. We were exhausted and crazed. And since I was so goal-oriented, no one was going to sleep. I got into a fight with Brynn and to cool off, I went down to the basement and literally played violin for several minutes, just to reflect on things like my new age, friendship, and solitude -- and to practice "Snowflake," which I was playing in the upcoming talent show.

Finally, we realized we were stronger as a group than as individuals, and we decided to band together to plan an intricate breakfast-in-bed scenario for my parents. It was probably 2am. But we figured it was close to morning. It had to be. It had to be. I meandered around the backyard in total darkness, trying to find flowers to pick from my parents' garden to present to them on a tray of homemade breakfast. No more American Girl for this 10 year old. I had moved on to full-on Martha Stewart Living shit.

All 8 of us crept into my parents' room (a major violation), holding trays of probably... Malt o'Meal? And glasses of milk? Surprisingly not well-received.

"What the hell/it's 4am/why aren't you asleep/why is this happening/half of you need to go to Hebrew School in four hours and we promised your parents you'd get a good night's rest." All fair points.

It was honestly a relief. No one protested as we finally climbed into our sleeping bags. We knew we were in trouble, but we didn't care -- we were ready to be embraced by sweet slumber, for at least four hours until half of my party needed to go to Hebrew School.

This year, I was a lucky gal and had birthday celebrations in Minneapolis and LA. I have the best friends in both places. One day, everyone will meet. Do I have to get married for that to happen? Um, fine.

I endeavored to make one of my very favorite -- albeit daunting -- cakes: The Princess Torte. It can be ordered from Wuollet Bakery in Minneapolis and it's very Swedish and gorgeous and light and delicious. Haley Hepworth, my partner-in-crime in college and now in LA, volunteered to help me -- because she is an angel and I had an improv audition in the middle of the day/middle of the baking and prep time. When I got home from the audition, she had finished it and CRAFTED MARZIPAN ROSES because, as I've already said, she's an ANGEL. Don't let this cake intimidate you -- it's worth it, and really not that difficult.

Princess Torte


2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons white sugar
1 1/2 cups half-and-half (split in half) (half half half)
3 large egg yokes
1 tablespoon vanilla

Fine, dry, bread crumbs for the pan
 1/2 cup unbleached flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
4 large eggs, separated
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons white sugar

2 boxes of marzipan (7 oz. each, available in the baking aisle of Gelson's, but not Target)
green food coloring
powdered sugar for dusting

2 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/3 cup seedless raspberry jam


In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch, sugar, and egg yokes. Add 1/2 cup of the half-and-half, mixing together.
Heat the remaining half-and-half in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it is just boiling.
Slowly pour the hot cream into the cornstarch/sugar/egg/cream mixture, whisking constantly, to temper the eggs. If you notice the eggs start to scramble... stop. And start over, because... gross.
Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and, over medium heat, stir constantly. The mixture will start to thicken to a custard. Make sure you are stirring to the bottom to prevent curdling. If it curdles, you can use a strainer and throw up.

Haley goes to town on some almost-custard.
 After about five minutes, remove from heat and stir in the vanilla.
Once it cools to room temperature, put it in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap (this will prevent the custard from forming a skin -- yum!) and stick it in the fridge!

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Coat a 9-inch spring form pan with PAM.
Coat the bottom of the pan with fine bread crumbs, tapping out the excess.
Feel like an old Swedish woman, because that bread crumb trick is 100% old-Swedish-woman.
Sift together the flour, cornstarch, and baking powder. Set aside.
In a stand mixer with whisk attachment, whip the egg whites and salt on medium speed until the egg whites are shiny and stiff, but not lumpy. This will take much longer than you think it ever could. If you are mixing by hand, get a friend to help.

These egg whites have NOT peaked.
 Add about 1/3 of the sugar and one egg yoke, then continue to mix for about 10 seconds.
Repeat this process 3 more times, then continue to mix for a few more minutes.
Fold in the flour in about four additions, gentle folding the batter around the flour. Basically, no need to over-mix.
Pour the batter into the pan.
Bake for about 30 minutes, or until it's golden brown and passes the toothpick test.
Cool the cake on a wire rack for about 10 minutes before releasing it from the pan.
Carefully release the cake, using a knife around the edges, if necessary.
Let it cool completely on a wire rack, naked and begging for marzipan.

Make sure your hands are clean, because you're about to get intimate with some marzipan.
Break the marzipan into little pieces in a medium bowl and knead together with your hands.
Your natural body heat will soften the marzipan. It's very convenient.
Use about 3 drops of green food coloring, working the color in so that it isn't concentrated or streaky. You're going for a lovely pale green, not something aggressive or neon or bright. Be careful.
Dust a work surface with powdered sugar.
Roll the marzipan into about a 16 in. disc (less than 1/8 in. thick), using a rolling pin -- or wine bottle, if you like to keep it fun.

 Don't be stingy with the powdered sugar -- use as much as you need to prevent it from sticking.

Cut the cake into three equal layers and set aside. No one is perfect, so just do the best you can.
  In a stand mixer with whisk attachment, whip the cream until sensually thick.
Put about 1/3 of the whipped cream into a small bowl, cover, and refrigerate.
Remove the custard from the fridge and whisk it around, since it will be extra thick. Once it is smooth and creamy, fold in the remaining whipped cream and blend until it's some kind of amazing, smooth, custard/whipped cream hybrid.
Set the bottom layer of the cake on a platter, cut side up.
Spread the raspberry jam onto the cake.
Spread half of the custard cream deliciousness on top of the jam.
Add another cake layer, and spread the remaining custard cream on top.
Add the final cake layer.

Every caption I come up with is accidentally very gross.
Spread about a quarter of the refrigerated whipped cream along the edges of the cake, and use the rest on top of the cake.

Silky smooth.
 Refrigerate this beautiful masterpiece for about a half an hour to an hour. This will firm it up so the marzipan doesn't destroy its delicate sensibilites.
When ready, drape the marzipan over the cake, gently pressing it to the cake. Trim the excess marzipan. This is where it helps to be a naturally gentle and patient person. I'm glad Haley did this part.

You could hide literally anything inside that blanket of marzipan.
If you are Haley Hepworth, you'll use the remaining marzipan to craft beautiful roses. She says she used a YouTube tutorial. And her heart.

The Swedes know what they're doing -- Ikea, healthcare, and Princess Torte. It makes a really wonderful birthday cake, especially if you're not into traditional frosting/enjoy turnt-up angel food cake.

Special thanks to Haley Hepworth and everyone who helped celebrate my birthday in both cities. 26 is off to a great start and I can't wait to see what baked goods this year will bring!

Happy baking! 


  1. Happy Birthday, Emily! You SO crack me up :) Have enjoyed reading all of these, and craving a bite of everything! And...never have I ever seen a penis ;) Okay, so I have

  2. BAHAHA, this cracked me up so much! So many memories - you and I fought like sisters for a few years there, didn't we? (in between writing stories, talking about boys and periods, and obsessing over school, of course)

  3. I ate a Glam Doll donut, a Cosi chocolate chip cookie, and drank a can of coke today and I STILL want a piece of this. Shit son.